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Is This The End of the Pumpkin Spice Latte? Why It’s Time to Try a Better Fall Coffee

Escaping from the grip PSL has around fall flavors

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Come August 30, 2022, pumpkin spice lattes (PSL) return to the Starbucks menu and the “fall aesthetic” community sweats in anticipation. Since its introduction in 2003, Starbucks has sold over 500 million PSLs – around 28 million per year. While the beverage practically sells itself when the leaves change, it’s safe to say millennials turned PSLs into the phenomenon it is, much like they did avocado toast. It’s no secret pumpkin spice has become an icon over the years, appearing in candles, syrups, cheeses, hummus, beer, and even dog treats. 

Pumpkin spice ingredients – a blend of nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and cloves – are native to Southeast Asian islands known as the Spice Islands. When the Dutch took hold of that territory in the early 17th-century they created a blend called speculaaskruiden, similar to pumpkin spice but with a hint of cardamom and white pepper. It was popularized and spread across borders quickly. 

In the U.S., pumpkin spice first appeared in a “pompkin” pie recipe printed in the 1798 edition of American Cookery by Amelia Simmons. In 1930, the company McCormick took the idea of the blend and ran with it, introducing what it’s known to be today.

It’s not a coincidence that millennials became addicted to PSLs when they were first sold. Starbucks specifically targeted the drink toward social-media-using millennials with disposable income and even created official PSL Twitter and Instagram accounts to have better access to the generation.

Shawn Steiman, co-author of Coffee A Comprehensive Guide to the Bean, the Beverage, and the Industry, doesn’t think the obsession with pumpkin spice relates to the taste at all, but the experience. 

“I submit that it isn’t about the specific flavor or combination of spices used in pumpkin spice, rather, it is the fact that it is not a daily/all year experience,” Steiman says. “We like things that come rarely because it makes them more special. The fall experience on the mainland – cooler temperatures, colored leaves, the ending of the year… all make us feel a certain way.”

Push Past Pumpkin

The flavors of fall are so much more than pumpkin. Jess Lancaster, Marketing Manager of Crema Coffee Roasters, located in Nashville, TN, notes that there are plenty of other options to jazz up the season. 

“I always suggest getting a nice warm chai when the weather starts to cool down – bonus points if it’s a traditional masala chai,” Lancaster says. “The typical spices in chai – ginger, anise, cardamom – are so warming and taste very ‘fall’ to me.” 

When out for a toasty beverage, Lancaster always checks for a local apple cider.

“I’m a sucker for a really great unpasteurized and fresh warm apple cider that’s steamed up with a little bit of caramel,” she says. 

On the side of coffee, Lancaster points out that, oftentimes, you’ll find coffees from Costa Rica on the shelves of many roasters during this time of year.

“Costa Rica is known for their honey-processed coffees, meaning some of the cherry is left on the coffee bean as it’s dried,” she says. “It gives it this deep, fruity and rich chocolate character, perfect to sip on all day when the chill starts to creep in.”

On the subject of pumpkin spice substitutions, Steiman says that although he prefers black coffee, he does have one “fall” beverage recommendation. 

“I once tasted a spectacular rosemary latte from a cafe in Kansas City,” he says.

Spectacular indeed! Below are our top picks for coffee recipes that deserve to push PSLs out of the fall spotlight.

Fall Drinks That Aren’t Pumpkin Spice Lattes 

Maple Sage Latte

In a mug, add real maple syrup, a pinch of ground cloves, a pinch of allspice and a pinch of fresh nutmeg. Before brewing 8 oz. of coffee, add 3-4 leaves of chopped sage into the grounds. Heat up ¼ cup of milk and foam. You can do this with a milk foamer or pour in a heat-safe glass jar with a lid and shake for 30 seconds. Pour coffee into prepared mug and top with milk. 

Mexican Mocha Latte 

In a small bowl, combine 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder, ¼ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. Nutmeg and ⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper. Brew 8 oz. strong coffee. Stir in dry ingredients and top with 1-3 Tbsp. heavy cream or half and half. 

Rosemary Latte

Heat a saucepan over medium heat and add 1 cup of water. Dissolve ½ cup brown sugar, stirring frequently. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Add sprigs of Rosemary and let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain through strainer or cheesecloth. Steam ¼ cup milk and foam. Pour coffee into a mug and add rosemary syrup. Top with foam and a sprig of rosemary.

Hot Spiced Cider

Put fresh coffee filter in coffee maker. Fill with ¼ cup brown sugar, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 tsp. whole cloves, ½ tsp. All-spice, ¼ tsp. salt, and 1 large orange, quartered with peel. Pour apple cider into water spot of coffee maker. Brew and serve hot.